Audiences During Covid webinar was held on 9 March 2021 during CIRCOM's Learning From A Global Pandemic week-long programme of interactive Zoom sessions, 8 - 12 March 2021


Viewing figures for public service television news output sky-rocketed across Europe during the pandemic. Our digital audiences have also grown. But will viewers stay with us after the crisis is over?

In this session, hosted by Dutch broadcaster RTV Oost, journalism consultant Maike Olij, co- author of the 2020 EBU report “Public Service Journalism in the Viral Age”, joined forces with the BBC’s James Coatsworth to look at the impact the pandemic has had on our audiences, and what this might mean for the future.


Maike Olij (left) and James Coatsworth (right)

An undeniable by-product of the pandemic was a renewed level of audience engagement for public service broadcasters across the continent, who continue to be seen as the trusted voice of broadcast news, including for younger people. James provided some detail on what that meant in England: “At the start of the year, for 23 consecutive nights the most watched programme on British television was the regional news at 18:30.” Of course this is not sustainable, but it does offer broadcasters the opportunity to understand what the audience wants in the future and how to remain relevant to them in a post-COVID world.


One of the elements that Maike identified in her research was that while linear TV audience numbers went down after a period of time during the pandemic, online figures did not, which has reinforced the approach of many European broadcasters to focus on their digital journalism during the crisis and beyond. She explained: “The reasons we found for why online was so successful is for one there were new daily routines. People are not going to work anymore, they’re sitting behind a laptop so it’s much easier to consume digital news offerings.


The next challenge facing public service broadcasters is to make sure it is their digital offerings that these audiences are consuming - and the best way to do that is to listen to what the audience needs, and giving it to them in a way that will keep them engaged.